A belated Fourth of July antivaccine rant about “zero tolerance vaccine laws,” courtesy of Barbara Loe Fisher

This week was a bit of an odd week, with the 4th of July holiday falling on Wednesday, thus leaving either an incredible five day weekend for the lucky few who can take such a weekend or just a confusing, albeit welcome, day off in the middle of the week. Still it was a good week, as depressing as two of my posts were to write. One thing that surprised me, though, is that I didn’t come across posts that misuse the holiday to lobby for a quack cause. Usually this sort of misuse comes in the form of appeals to “freedom,” as in “health freedom.” Leave it to the grand dame of the antivaccine movement, someone who’s been at it since the 1980s, to take advantage of the holiday to attack “zero tolerance vaccine laws.” Yes, it’s the founder of the Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) Barbara Loe Fisher, pulling her same routine, trying to paint school vaccine mandates as an unacceptable assault on “freedom.” She posted it on July 1, and somehow I missed it. Such is life. I’ve seen it now.

So here’s Barbara Loe Fisher, in all her “freedom-loving” antivax “glory”:

Even though Fisher doesn’t mention him in the video, I have to wonder if the recent disciplining of antivaccine pediatrician and icon Dr. Robert (“Dr. Bob”) Sears is partially behind this. Basically, ever since it was revealed a week ago that Dr. Bob’s medical license had been conditionally revoked and that he had been put on probation for three years, antivaxers, led, of course, by Dr. Bob himself, have been beside themselves trying to portray the California Board of Medicine as jack-booted fascist thugs assaulting medical “freedom,” all because its members are in the thrall of big pharma. I’m guessing that Fisher had planned this video and maybe even had it in the can when the news about Dr. Bob hit the media, but the timing remains fortuitous for antivaxers anyway. On the other hand, one of her references is this article about Dr. Bob’s disciplinary action from two days before the video posted.

So what’s chapping Ms. Fisher’s posterior is, as I mentioned above, something she calls “zero tolerance vaccine laws.” I can’t help but wonder how long it took her and her fellow antivaxers to come up with a term designed to demonize laws, like California SB 277, which eliminate nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates by characterizing them as “zero tolerance vaccine laws,” thus linking them to ill-advised “zero tolerance” policies, of which ridiculous examples of enforcement not infrequently appear in the media For one thing, there are only three states with “zero tolerance vaccine laws” that don’t permit so-called “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates (Mississippi, West Virginia, and now California), and with the antivaccine movement politically ascendant in many states after having teamed up with anti-regulation, pro-“freedom” conservative groups in many states (e.g., Texas, where Texans for Vaccine Choice is aligned tightly with conservative activists), it doesn’t look as though it’s very likely that any other states will be passing SB 277-like laws any time soon. Of course, part of what got Dr. Bob into trouble was writing a dubious medical exemption letter (among other things), and Dr. Bob has been using SB 277 as a profit opportunity, having started to give seminars on how to avoid SB 277 requirements almost the same day that the governor signed the bill into law.

Which brings us to…FREEDOM!!! Fisher tells us so:

Every July Americans celebrate the day in 1776 when we declared our independence from a monarchy and began to create a Constitutional Democratic Republic to secure liberty and justice for all. 1

Today, we are witnessing the erosion of core values that our constitutional democracy was founded upon.

One example is a public campaign led by the medical establishment to demonize and discriminate against anyone opposing zero tolerance vaccine laws that violate human rights in the name of public health.

This is a reason why antivaccine activism, which used to be more associated with hippy-dippy, Granola-crunching lefties, has now become much more the province of gun-toting, anti-government, anti-regulation, “don’t tread on me” conservatives. Of course, the stereotype that it was hippy-dippy, Granola-crunching lefties who predominated in the antivaccine movement was always dubious. In reality, antivaccine beliefs are the beliefs that cross all political boundaries. That being said, it is undeniable that, right now, in 2018, the loudest and most influential antivaccine voices tend to come from the right, so much so that Republicans in the 2016 election pandered to them.

Sometimes, antivaxers go a bit overboard with the “freedom” rhetoric, too. Remember that time when Del Bigtree gave a talk in Michigan in which he basically said he was willing to fight and die for “freedom” not to vaccinate? Fisher’s entry sounds as though that’s where it’s going. She’s not as histrionic, but she’s wrapping herself in the Declaration of Independence, the flag, and the American revolution, just as much as Del Bigtree was. As for that last part in her introduction, she’s referring to an article she wrote last fall in which she basically said that laws requiring vaccination were a human rights violation because they violate the Nuremberg Code because they are unethical human experimentation. They aren’t.

Let’s see what else Fisher had up her sleeve for our nation’s founding holiday:

A constitutional democracy promotes fair and equal justice for all. So the authors of the Declaration of Independence rejected rule by an elitist ruling class of citizens who are considered to be more important and qualified to govern without the consent of those being governed. The Bill of Rights in the US Constitution makes it clear that respect for the natural rights of individuals limits the power of the state. As Thomas Jefferson put it: “the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Why, then, are we allowing an elite aristocracy of doctors and professors to bully people who disagree with them about laws that disempower parents and place an unequal vaccine risk burden on vulnerable children in the name of the public health?

Here we go again with another right wing antivaccine dog whistle. (There are, of course, left wing antivaccine dog whistles, too.) Fisher’s talking about freedom, fair and equal justice, and rule not by the elite but by the people, but what she really means is to demonize vaccines and support antivaxers’ “right” to spread misinformation about vaccines and refuse them. Also notice who’s left out of this equation. As always, it’s the children. Rand Paul, who is without a doubt an antivaxer, once said, “The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.” This is a very common sentiment among antivaxers, namely that the child is an appendage or the property of his parents. No consideration whatsoever is given to what is in the child’s best interest, only to what the parent thinks to be in the child’s best interest, whether it is or not. In other words, it’s all about the parents. Always. It’s parental “freedom,” “autonomy,” and “rights” without consideration for the actual freedom, autonomy, and rights of the child.

Fisher’s only getting started, though:

There are only two laws that require American citizens to risk their lives. The first is a federal law, the military draft, which requires all healthy male adults to risk their lives in a war declared by the government to protect national security. Adults objecting to a war for religious beliefs or conscience can obtain a conscientious objection exemption without being punished.

The second is a state law requiring all healthy children to risk their lives in a war that doctors declared on microbes two centuries ago. However, unlike adults who are not punished for following their conscience and refusing to fight in a war to protect national security, parents can be punished for following their conscience and refusing to risk their children’s lives in a war to theoretically protect the public health. State sanctions include segregation and loss of the unvaccinated child’s right to a school education or permitting pediatricians to deny medical care to children if their parents refuse one or more government recommended vaccinations.

Two different laws that require healthy Americans to risk injury or death: one conscripting adults in what government clearly defines as an emergency military action; and the other conscripting children in a mandatory vaccination program that is not defined as an emergency military action but is operated like one.

Get it? School vaccine mandates like SB 277 are the equivalent of laws that give the government the power to draft young men (and someday in my lifetime, I’m guessing, young women too) to go off and fight and die in our nation’s wars! (Subtle is not a word that should ever be used to describe Ms. Fisher.) I’m also confused how the vaccination program is operated like an “emergency military action.” School vaccine mandates have been around a long time, and in the past had broad bipartisan support, being the sorts of laws that were as close to nonpartisan as we could ever get in this country. They’re ongoing and routine. There’s nothing “urgent” or “emergent” about them except when we have an actual outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease, such as the Disneyland measles outbreak or the outbreak of measles among the Somali immigrant community in Minnesota, the latter of which was fueled by actual antivaxers, including Andrew Wakefield and Mark Blaxill, stirring up antivaccine sentiments in the community.

Oh, and Fisher has a beef against the U.S. Public Health Service (of which the CDC is a component):

The medical establishment’s war on microbes, which has no end in sight, has always been conducted like a military campaign. The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) traces its history back to the US Marine Hospital Service, whose doctors had the power to segregate by quarantine and prevent immigrants sick with infectious diseases from disembarking from ships entering U.S. ports.

Today, doctors employed by the U.S. Public Health Service wear military style uniforms, are expected to follow orders, and are promoted through a rank system similar to that of the U.S. Navy. Supervised by a Surgeon General, who is technically a three star Admiral reporting to a four star Assistant Secretary of Health, the US Public Health Service is described as “an elite team of more than 6,700 full time, well trained, highly qualified public health professionals.” These health soldiers, along with other federal and state government health officials, work to maintain the public health.

Gee, Fisher says that as though it were a bad thing. Yes, USPHS officers are considered active duty military “purposes of all rights, privileges, immunities, and benefits now or hereafter provided under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.” It’s a quirk of history. There are, however, advantages to this system. For one thing, when aid is needed after disasters or during epidemics, it’s a faster, more limber system. The stated mission of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is to “protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation,” and it achieves this through “rapid and effective response to public health needs, leadership and excellence in health practices, and advancement of public health science.”

As for our “war on microbes” having no end in sight, well, technically that’s true, but that doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made. Smallpox is gone. Polio is almost gone. These achievements were the result of worldwide efforts that involve dreaded (to antivaxers) mass immunization programs. One also can’t help but note that, as long as there are antivaxers like Barbara Loe Fisher trying to frighten parents out of vaccinating, the “war on microbes” (if war it is) will never truly end because people like Fisher will guarantee it.

So Fisher has spend a while crying “freedom!” All that’s left is to cry “persecution,” or, as I like to call it, “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!”

Here we go:

Now the conversation about vaccination has taken an ugly turn. 14 Prominent medical doctors and professors at leading universities are publishing articles in academic journals and are being quoted in media reports attacking the intelligence, emotional and psychological stability, and moral values of anyone who dares to question vaccine safety or vaccine laws. 15 16 17 18 19

Men and women who become doctors are no more equal than anyone else in society and, yet, they are being given a free pass to track, profile, marginalize, coerce and call for segregation and criminal prosecution of fellow, citizens who disagree with them about vaccination. 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

It’s funny some of the references that Fisher cites to demonstrate her point. The vast majority of them resemble what she’s saying about them only by coincidence at best. For instance, Gregory Poland’s article (which was cited) does point out the scientific ignorance of many antivaxers, but it hardly “demonizes” them. Of course, it’s not surprising that Fisher would not like the American Psychological Association’s study showing that belief in conspiracy theories is associated with antivaccine views, but what’s surprising about that finding? Absolutely nothing to anyone who actually pays attention to the antivaccine movement. She also cites an unsurprising (and not demonizing) article on where unvaccinated children live that noted that unvaccinated children “tended to be white, to have a mother who was married and had a college degree, to live in a household with an annual income exceeding $75 000, and to have parents who expressed concerns regarding the safety of vaccines and indicated that medical doctors have little influence over vaccination decisions for their childre”. Then, of course, Fisher cites article speculating over whether parents of unvaccinated children could be sued, which, whether she likes it or not is a legitimate question. She also cites Peter Hotez’s article about antivaxers, which antivaxers tried to characterize as “bullying.” It’s not.

About the closest Fisher could find to an article that fit her description of all these horrible articles about antivaxers is an op-ed by Alex Berezow in USA TODAY from around the time of the Disneyland measles outbreak proposing jailing antivaccine parents. Berezow, you might recall, is now the Senior Fellow in Biomedical Science for the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) and the co-author with Hank Campbell of the hilariously off-base book, Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left published in 2012, in which he tried to argue that the “left” was just as antiscience as the right based on some rather hilarious examples. There’s no time to discuss them here, but there was a discussion in the comments after this review of the book. ACSH, of course, appears to me to be very much an astroturf group devoted to defending the interests of the chemical, pesticide, and agricultural industries, but it’s correct on vaccines mainly because big pharma supports vaccines. Let’s just put it this way. Hank Campbell, Berezow’s co-author and current president of the ACSH, fully approved of all of Donald Trump’s science picks, including Scott Pruitt Rick Perry, all while proclaiming himself apolitical. I can’t help but suspect that Berezow wouldn’t have been so hot to jail antivaxers if he didn’t think they were lefties. I also can’t help but think that Fisher exaggerates the vitriol directed against antivaxers if these are the best examples she can come up with of it.

Fisher concludes:

The forced vaccination lobby backed by industry and medical trade is already making plans to double down and target multiple states in 2019 for removal of religious and conscientious belief exemptions, while also placing further restrictions on medical exemptions to vaccination.

Will you stand up and defend vaccine freedom in America?

No, I’ll be on the side of science and the health of children.